With the 2012 Presidential election only a week away, our voice-mails, in-boxes, and mailboxes overflow with campaign promises. While today candidates can communicate their message over television, the tube was not always an option. What language did politicians in the past use, and does it differ from today? How did politicians across the centuries attempt to sway voters? What imagery did they use to appeal to individuals? What were the issues at stake in a particular election? The Marchand Archives provides a wealth of resources to help answer these important questions.
One of my favorite ways to engage with elections of the past is through campaign posters. They provide an excellent opportunity to discuss the political process. Helping students analyze campaign posters from past elections will allow them make sense of the political process they see on television today. To me, campaign posters from the past are similar to TV commercial spots of today. They communicate the message of the candidate in an at-a-glance visual manner.
Take for example this 1896 campaign poster for the Republican ticket. Colorful and packed with images, this poster depicts the stance of McKinley and his running mate. While this image also includes a significant amount of text, it is not necessary to read it all. Choice words focus the reader on the candidate’s main slogan: “Our Home Defenders.” What stands out to you from this image? What makes you want to know more about the views of the Republican platform?
How does it compare to the Democratic poster of William Jennings Brian from 1900?
Commentary from Katharine Kipp, graduate student in the History department at U.C. Davis